I’m a bit tired of always saying how good it would be to volunteer ’round these parts. Since I’ve been here, my newspaper has delivered the disengagement, Kassams in Sederot, Katyushas and war in the North, and Kassams in Sederot.
We went down to Sederot today to volunteer with Lev Echad, which is an organization started to help citizens in the situations I just named.
Charged with painting a decrepit bomb shelter, we arrived in the Ben Gurion area of the city, a mixed neighborhood: religious and secular… Mizrachi, Russian and Ethiopian… poor through somewhat-middle class… And then there were the mixed reactions to our work and presence.
First, we needed a place to get dipping water. We crossed the street and searched for a house that seemed ‘alive’. We came to a home with an open door and knocked.
“Mi? Mi sham? Halo?”
“Shalom – anachnu me Lev Echad -“
“Baanu l’tzboa ha miklat… Rak rotzim ktzat mayim…”
“Betach! V’ mayim l’shtot? Mashehu l’echol?”
She was a short, religious woman and reminded us of home in Katamonim. After loading us up, she watched us leave and was still calling after us. We only hoped she could hear us thanking her.
After much painting, a man passed us by on his way to his home across the street.
“Oh, ze b’seder, todah.”
“Nu, mashehu l’shtot? Mayim?”
“Yesh lanu, todah raba…”
There was normalcy in his voice, with a thin strip of urgency; he had an air of not usually calling out to strangers.
When we got to painting the back of the shelter, the couple from the house behind us exited, baby in tow and their suitcases stuffed and dragged behind them, in this somber march to wait in their driveway for their weekend escape. They stood straight, staring right at us. I couldn’t help but catch glances of their faces; it was a numb look, like, “It’s nice, but what’s the point?”
For a good five minutes I felt their eyes on my back; eyes long dry, long tearless.
Warm – not just hot – in Sederot
When we finished working, we went back to our initial ‘supplier’ to return her cups and juice. She insisted on us using her sink to wash up and then insisted on us staying for another cold drink, and then, of course, to eat something, which turned into a whole meal. In a year and a half of living in Katamonim, where we knew these things happen, we finally got invited to sit and stay in that Mizrachi mother way that you just cannot say no to.
It was a bit awkward because I think she wanted to talk to us more but knew we were immigrants, and maybe felt like we didn’t speak much.
Instead, we listened to her daughter tell her that barely anyone was in school today so they did alternative activities.
When her son-in-law walked in, she said, “Look at you, brave to come down to Sederot,” I could have sworn he replied sarcastically: “Sederot? I’m afraid of Iran.”
Before we left, and thanked her profusely, she said: “See? We in Sederot have warm hearts… It’s not easy here… Remember that. Warm people, warm hearts.”
I think it’s important for all of us to realize that, yes, volunteering is important, giving whatever you can is important, but the major gap present in these people’s lives can mostly be filled by their own government. The Israeli government has not done enough to protect this area, and I’m tired of watching attention be doled out based on socioeconomic relevance (if it was Ra’anana, would it be the same?).
Israel swept up the Ethiopian Jews, collected the Russian Jews, encourages the Anglo Jews; where is Israel for the Israeli Jews? It’s a theme that just keeps repeating, and the story is already old.
If you are interested in volunteering:
Ruach Tova is an organization helping Lev Echad: email@example.com
Or call Lev Echad reps directly: 08 661 0933 ext. 5 or 054 758 7462/3
Finally, the city feature
Also, if I was from Sederot, I probably don’t want my hometown defined by the Kassams and bomb shelters, but here are some photos I took today. I hope that a more complete “City feature: Sederot” will be available in the nearest future, when the city can go back to thriving from just surviving.